Sociocultural anthropology research

See some of the department’s sociocultural anthropology research projects below.

HIV Prevention Research

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Dr. Robert T. Trotter developed and launched a program (RARE and I-RARE) that provides tools for the rapid assessment of HIV and drug intervention programs.  Dr. Trotter’s research efforts have resulted in the capture of numerous research grants and in the employment and training of numerous graduate and undergraduate students.

He has conducted workshops (both national and international) for the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health.  He has recently conducted rapid ethnographic training workshops for the ministries of health in Brazil, Cambodia, and Viet Nam.

Latin American Research Program

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Beginning in 1970, Dr. James Sexton began his Guatemalan field school and research project. The initial field experience in Guatemala was so rewarding that he returned 19 more times, sometimes for the summer and fall seasons, other times for just a few weeks.

Based on his field research, he has published articles on his research dealing with development modernization and culture change in such journals as the Reviews in Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Human Organization, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, and the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychol­ogy.

Dr. Sexton published the following books: Educa­tion and Innovation in a Guatemalan Community (UCLA Latin American Center, 1972), Son of Tecun (University of Arizona Press, 1981, and Waveland Press, 1990), Campesino (University of Arizona Press, 1985), Ignacio (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), Mayan Folktales (Doubleday Anchor, 1992, and University of New Mexico Press, 1999), Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999),  Joseno (University of New Mexico Press, 2001), and The Dog Who Spoke and more Mayan Folktales/El perro que hablo y mas cuentos mayas (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010).

South Pacific studies

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Dr. Small’s lifelong ethnographic work has been in the South Pacific, and she continues to be involved in research and scholarship in this area.  Her book Voyages is used by more than 100 universities, and was the recent “forum” selection by Pacific Studies for scholarly review by three scholars with author response.

She is active in reviewing grants and manuscripts (Museum Studies, Contemporary Pacific, American Ethnologist, National Science Foundation) in Pacific studies and wrote two of the recent reference works on Pacific Islanders (in Harvard University Press, The New Americans, 2007 and the Tongan Profile for Migration Information Source in 2004).

Freshman year studies

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In 2002, on her sabbatical, Dr. Small enrolled in her own university as a freshman, moving into the dorms and taking a full load of classes.  The ethnography, describing “undergraduate culture,” that came out of her freshman experience (published by Cornell University Press in 2005, and then by Penguin in 2006) has received wide attention in both national and international circles and in public and professional media (including features in the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, Newsweek, and USA today, Talk of the Nation, Associated Press, CNN and guest talks on more than 40 radio talk shows).

The public attention has provided a vehicle for making applications of her ethnographic insights in higher education.  Dr. Small is on partial release to speak at educational conferences and universities across the country about improving teaching and realigning university structures.  In 2006-7 alone, she accepted invitations as keynote speaker or presenter/consultant at more than 30 universities and conferences in the U.S. and overseas in an effort to assist in the transformation of pedagogical structure now underway in higher education.

Computer modeling of cultural systems

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In 1997, Dr. Cathy Small was awarded a National Science Foundation grant for 1998 and 1999 to model and simulate Polynesian social systems. This modeling work has culminated in an invitation to the Santa Fe Institute as part of a global team of scientists working on modeling issues.

The Santa Fe team jointly publish­ed the book Dynamics in Human and Primate Societ­ies: Agent-Based Modeling of Social and Spatial Processes with Oxford University Press in 1999.  She was named Senior Fellow at the Institute for Law & Systems Research, University of San Diego, where she collaborated on modeling and ethnographic projects on health management and the law and she served as pro bono consultant to the Central Planning Office of the Tongan government, where she modeled future population and migration figures.

Her modeling efforts have opened new teaching avenues for her, including the development of a gradu­ate course in computer modeling, her participation as the invited workshop director at the 1998 and 2001 AAA meet­ings (sponsored by NAPA) to introduce anthropology professionals to computer modeling and simulation, and her invitation by the French government’s Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales as a scholar-in-residence to conduct a two-week modeling course in the University of Provence in Marseilles, France in 1999.

Pipeline NAU

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Dr. Cathy Small began Pipeline NAU, a program with the support of university administration and the help of committed faculty members. The Pipeline is a cooperative venture of NAU, the Flagstaff Public Schools and Big Brothers/Big Sisters that pro­vides long-term mentoring to low-income, high-potential seventh-graders who would be the first in their families to attend college.

Mentors from NAU meet weekly with their mentees for five years within a structured program, until their student has graduated from high school. At the successful completion of the program, the student receives a full four-year scholarship to NAU.

Almost a second job involving mentoring, administration, fund-raising, recruitment and promotion, Dr. Small coordi­nates this program as a service project. Pipeline received the National Points of Light award in 1999, the Governor's Special Recognition award and honors for the Best Educational Practice in Post-Secondary Education in the state of Arizona in 2000.

RARE Projects

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In the past few years Dr. Vasquez has been a trainer, evaluator, and project analyst for different programs of the RARE (Rapid Assessment Response and Evaluation) Project, working with minority communities in 15 U.S. cities to reduce HIV/AIDS risk factors.

This work, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, has helped to significantly reduce the number of new HIV/AIDS cases in African American and Latino communities.

Corporate anthropology at General Motors

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Dr. Trotter has been working closely with colleagues at the General Motors Research and Development facility over the past four years to investigate several aspects of corporate culture including: a) collaborative research programs between industry and universities and institutes, b) development of an ideal plant culture model for changing manufacturing collaborative designs, and recently, c) designing a medical anthropology study of GM's new health care initiative for both current employees and retirees.

The research has resulted in: 1) internships and research assistantships for NAU graduate students, 2) publications, 3) a patent application for a cultural model of collaborative research program design, and 4) a set of tools (training packages) for improving cooperation and quality of life within GM plant culture.

Sedona-Verde Valley projects

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Dr. Walter Vannette has completed a series of eight Sedona-Verde Valley projects since 1992. These projects have provided applied research opportunities for dozens of undergraduate and graduate students. The project’s success and collaborative working relationship with local residents, community-based organizations and agency personnel provide the Department and NAU high visibility and a leading research role in the region.

The Verde Valley Projects are complex and comprehensive. They are funded by different government bodies and result in eight- to ten-chapter background research reports. The issues addressed in these reports, among others, include water management, alternative modes of transportation, tourism development, city planning processes, State and Federal land use issues (e.g., land exchange), and human values related to growth management.

This research involves working closely with officials of the Arizona Department of Transportation, Arizona State Land Department, Arizona Office of Tourism, Yavapai-Apache Tribe, Prescott and Coconino National Forest, ten communities in the Verde Valley and several inter-agency bodies. All projects are followed by 2 1/2 day community forums.

The forces of growth in the Verde Valley provide us with a natural experiment in cultural change. As mentioned above, such projects provide field research, publication and internship opportunities for many of our students.

Applied cultural research with Hopi

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As an applied anthropologist at NAU, Dr. Miguel Vasquez has emphasized reciprocity between NAU and the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (HCPO) to strengthen both local community cultural assets and the educational experience for both native and non-native students. The NAU-HCPO Memoran­dum of Agreement exists as an outgrowth of this work.

Collaboration between villagers and NAU anthropologists began with the Bacavi Terrace Project, which involved physical restoration of 700-year-old terrace gardens, as well as documentation and education of local youth in traditional ecological knowledge.   The project has given rise to several other Hopi agricultural projects and annual planting and harvesting with elderly Hopi farmers.

As ties between the department and the HCPO have developed, so have other projects.  Together with other NAU faculty, the HCPO, the National Park Service, and the Hopi Foundation, Vasquez helped to develop a Ruins Preservation Training Workshop for unemployed Hopi youth, which has generated careers in cultural preservation and a new interest in the relevance of anthropology for the Hopi.

NAU students, in collaboration with the HCPO, have transcribed tapes for tribal archives, developed a cultural curriculum with the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, conducted research in cultural affiliation, developed media materials on health and nutrition for the Hopi Health Center, and created the HCPO web site, which won the national student award of the Society for Applied Anthropology.

Native Voices on the Colorado River

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Native Voices on the Colorado River is a cultural interpretive program for Grand Canyon Colorado River outfitters on Native American perspectives of the Grand Canyon. The goal of the program is to increase understanding and communication about the relationships of affiliated tribes with the Grand Canyon from their own perspectives.

The program is being developed in response to a National Park Service mandate for enhanced interpretation of Native American perspectives to the Grand Canyon. This program represents a collaboration of the Grand Canyon river outfitters through the Grand Canyon River Outfitter Association and Northern Arizona University’s Anthropology Department and Institute for Native Americans.

NAU Anthropology Department provides overall administration and leadership for the program through the efforts of a program director. NAU Institute for Native Americans will provide critical advice and assistance as needed for program development and implementation. An Advisory Group consisting of tribal and outfitter representatives provides critical advice, recommendations, and technical assistance for the program.